Apple Challah (P) Yield: Makes 2 9" round loaves or two 8-1/2"x4-1/2" loaves
2 envelopes instant yeast
5 cups bread flour
1 cup warm water
3 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling the pan and for topping
2-1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
3 large or approximately 4 medium baking apples
In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1 cup of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until smooth. Let the slurry stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.
Whisk the eggs, oil, salt, and sugar into the puffed yeast slurry until the eggs are well-incorporated and the salt and sugar have dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining 4 cups flour all at once.
When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it until it is smooth and firm, no more than 10 minutes. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tbsp. or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tbsp. of flour.
Place the dough in a warm clean bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let ferment for 1 hour, or until just slightly puffed. While the dough is fermenting, prepare the apples.
Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut each quarter lengthwise in half, then cut each slice crosswise in half if the apple was medium size, or into three pieces if the apple was large; you should end up with large squarish chunks.
Measure out 4-1/2 heaping cups of chunks and transfer them to a covered container.
Sprinkle the dough and your work surface with flour and pull the dough out of the bowl. Cut the dough into two equal pieces and keep one piece covered while you work with the other. Roll out the dough into a 16" square, approximately 1/8" thin.
Scatter 1 heaping cup of the apples over the center third of the dough, then fold up the bottom third to cover them. Press the dough into the apples to try to seal it around them. Scatter another heaping cup over the folded-over apple-filled portion of the dough and fold the top of the dough over it to create a very stuffed letter fold.
Press down on the dough to try to push out any air pockets and to seal it around the apples.
Roll the dough to form a short side into a chunky cylinder, push the dough into the bowl with the smooth side up, and cover it with plastic wrap. Repeat with the other piece of dough and put it in a second covered bowl or other container.
Let the dough ferment for approximately another hour, or until slightly risen and very soft.
Oil two 8" round cake pans or 8-1/2"x4-1/2" loaf pans. Using as much dusting flour as you need, pat each dough half as best as you can into a rough round or log shape, trying to keep the dough's smooth skin intact over the top. You will not be able to deflate the dough much at this point because of the apples.
Slip the dough into the pans smooth side up and cover well with plastic wrap. (The shaped loaves can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, which will only intensify their flavor.) Let the loaves proof until they have risen over the edges of their pans, approximately 30 minutes (or up to 1-1/2 hours if the loaves have been refrigerated.).
Immediately after shaping the reads (or 30 minutes before baking if the loaves have been refrigerated), arrange an oven rack in the lower third position, remove any racks above it, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
When the loaves have risen and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush each one with a generous tbsp. of oil, then sprinkle them with a few tbsp. of sugar to form a sugary-oily crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 40 minutes of baking, switch the pans from front to back so that the breads brown evenly. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven, unmold them, and let them cool on a rack.